The Taste of Japanese Whisky 5th Edition

In 2015, we will again have two whisky tastings for 65 people each.
Since I am a big fan of Mars and Chichibu distilleries, there will be a small distillery tasting again.
The Gentle Giants tasting this year is extra special because it contains something very rare that already did over 100.000 yen in Japanese auctions. Now with a limited European release, we could get it for a bit less than that amount so we chose to add it to the tasting as our final offering as it's not a whisky at all! We also added a whisky from the 3rd largest producer in Japan, Kirin, mostly known for it's beer and former owner of Karuizawa distilery. Due to the rarity of items in the tasting and increasing whisky prices for Japanese whiskies, both need their price to be set at €30,-

What is Whisky?

Whisky is a spirit made from barley or other types of grain. It's mostly associated with Scotland, but also produced outside of the British Isles.

After World War II, Japan became one of the largest producers of whisky outside of Scotland. This is why we started to  incorporate Japan's number one strong spirit in to the Anime Festival.

This year we are organising the fourth Japanese whisky tasting event at the Anime Festival.
To enter you will have to buy a separate whisky ticket. This ticket covers all consumptions that are part of this tasting event. tickets can be bought at the Information Desk.

Focus

This year, we are again organising two tastings at Anime to make sure there is a wide scope of whisky to taste. For the advanced taster, we recommend either tasting, as both have awesome whiskies and other things this year.The explanation of how the product is made will be as limited or explicit as the audience wishes, so if you are a novice in whisky, don't hesitate to sign up for some exceptional malts. For beginners we do recommend the Gentle Giants tasting, even though it's more expensive, the whiskies in general are more accessible.

The History of Japanese Whisky

In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the valley of Yamazaki. Using copper pot stills, the Yamazaki distillery was the first of its kind outside of Scotland. The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offered pure water, diversity of climate and high humidity and according to Torii the ideal environment for the maturation of quality whisky. Torii was able to start his empire by enlisting a Japanese chemist who had been sent out to learn about the Whisky trade in Scotland, a certain Masataka Taketsuru (1894-1979). Taketsuru was sent to Scotland by the later defunct Osaka-based company called Settsu Shuzo, who also wanted to produce a Japanese whisky based on what people in Scotland make. Taketsuru was send to Scotland in 1919 to get educated in western science at Glasgow University, and in his free time, he also learned about the art of blending and distilling.

When he returned to Japan in 1920, he realised that the project for which he had been recruited was not going to see the light of day. And, following the 1922 stock market crash, he lost his job. A year later, he joined the Kotobukiya group (Later Suntory), for which he and Torrii built the Yamazami distillery.

In 1934, after a dispute with Torii, he decided to strike out on his own. Masataka Taketsuru remembered from his experience in Scotland that the environment was essential for producing a quality whisky and realised that the climate of Southern Hokkaido closely resembles Scotland. He found the perfect place for his  distillery in the town of Yoichi and created the Nippon Kaju Company and in 1939, after having started off with cheap apple brandy, he began to release his first blends. War broke out, but this did not stop him from bringing out his first bottle in 1940. In 1952, the company definitively adopted the name Nikka Whisky.

His growing success enabled him to establish a second distillery in 1969 on the island of Honshu close to the city of Sendai. Meanwhile, Suntory established a second Distillery, Hakushu, near mount Fuji which prompted Nikka to start a third one, which has since closed and only used for storage near Osaka.

The two Giants

Nikka and Suntory are the most well known brands of Japanese whisky. Nikka, Taketsuru's company, was subsequently bought by Asahi Breweries but still operates as a separate company. Suntory has started to expand in all kinds of beverages as well.
Of these two giants, only Suntory used to be well known in The Netherlands and most of Europe, simply because they have a good distribution channel here and at that time, Nikka produced only enough Single Malt whisky for the home market. Luckily for us Westerners, this is slowly changing.

Japan's active distilleries

The map above, made by Shinanoya places all active Japanese distilleries in it's place. However, the Karuizawa Distillery has been closed down and dismantled, despite voices from the West, screaming for the factory to continue as the whisky, which has to mature for at least three years, is of exceptional quality.

The Hombo Shinshu Distillery is the only one left of their three production locations. Hombo used to produce whisky in Kagoshima, Yamanashi and in Nagano (Shinshu) but was, four years ago, almost a lost cause. Due to the factory manager and Master Distiller Takehira Koki's input, their almost broken down still was repaired and is now, for it's fourth year, in full production again, but only during Winter. Hombo produces whisky under the Mars label. It's a small distillery and getting their goods outside of Japan is almost impossible.

An odd one in the world of whisky is Eigashima's White Oak Distillery, which, up till recently, only produced blended whisky. They discovered that the malts they produced for their blends, were actually quite good. This led to their quiet release of a five year old Single Malt called Akashi, after the large city which is near the Distillery. This malt has been on the market for a few years and was relatively un-noticed, until they decided to release a one-off 8 year old Single Malt at The Tokyo Whisky Live! event, which got high praise from all famous whisky buffs. They have now released, alongside their five year old, a very limited batch of 12 year old Akashi of only 2000, 500ml. bottles and have recently released an even smaller batch of 14 and 15yo whisky, which has matured for it's final two years in wine barrels from their vineyards. The funny thing about this distillery is that they only produce whisky during Summer because they produce Wine in Autumn, other spirits and digestives in Spring and Sake in the Winter while most smaller distilleries produce in Winter.

The final small distillery I will discuss here is: Chichibu. Chichibu is owned by Venture Whisky. Venture Whisky has been set up by Akuto Ichiro, Grandson of the previous distiller in the area o Saitama, relatively near Tokyo. Ichiro has a real passion for his craft and you can notice this in his total hands-on approach. He aims to produce everything that is in his whiskies in Japan and even locally. To make this work, he has made agreements with local farmers to grow the type of barley he needs biologically, has used peat from local mores to burn, giving the whisky it's smoky flavour. This year he will start to malt this and other barley at the Chichibu distillery, which is only done by three distilleries in Scotland at the moment and no others in Japan. Due to the heat and high elevation, Chichibu's spirit matures pretty fast. Their three year old "The First" was named Japanese Whisky of 2011. And for a reason!

Our tastings

This year we have opted for two tastings again. Yet an other small distilleries one and one with mostly Suntory products and one from Nikka and one from Kirin this year!


The Small Distillery tasting on Friday

Because in my honest opinion, MARS and Chichibu are the two most interesting distilleries in Japan at the moment, and last year's tasting had more Chichibu whiskies, we have tried to create a Mars only tasting. Since this is pretty dificult to do now a days with single cask Mars releases selling out in under 30 seconds, we have added a phenominal blended whisky that contains malt and grain whisky from two closed distilleries, Hanyu and Kawasaki. We also managed to get a hold of a 27yo single cask Mars release from our friends at Shinanoya (yes, this whisky was sold out in under 30 seconds).

This tasting will contain the following (hard to get) whiskies:

  1. MARS Iwai tradition Château Mars red wine finish Blend
  2. MARS Revival 2011 - 2013 (First 3yo new Mars whisky)
  3. MARS 2011 Bourbon and Sherry (Second new Mars whisky release)
  4. MARS Komagatake 10yo Single Malt
  5. MARS Komagatake 27yo Salon de  Shimaji x Shinanoya #469 Bourbon barrel
  6. ICHIRO'S MALT Houou-uchi Hanyu and Kawasaki Grain blend for Isetan

The Gentle Giants on Saturday

This year the two whisky giants in Japan, Suntory and Nikka will supply the whisky for the second tasting at Anime.
This will be a cool tasting with a few avilable whiskies in Europe and some impossible to get ones. It even contains a very expensive Nikka 75th anniversary product that is not even a whisky, but it tastes so awesome I just had to include it. The theme here is gentle whiskies. Even with the peated Hakushu, due to it's bourbon barrel maturing will be more gentle. The only bold whisky in this tasting is the rather aggressive Limited edition 2014 Yamazaki. The final bottle is the Kirin Fujisanroku, their Fuji Gotemba isnthe 3rd largest distillery in Japan and they moatly produce blended whisky.

  1. YAMAZAKI Puncheon 2013
  2. HAKUSHU Bourbon Barrel 2013
  3. YAMAZAKI Limited edition 2014 (Not available outside Japan)
  4. HIBIKI 17 yo
  5. HIBIKI Mellow Harmony (Not available outside Japan)
  6. KIRIN Fujisanroku 18yo 
  7. NIKKA Rita 30yo apple brandy

Signup

Tickets will be for sale at the Information desk on the day of the event. The tickets will be priced at:

  • Small distillery tasting on Friday € 30,-
  • Gentle Giants tasting on Saturday € 30,-

Restrictions

  • You have to be 18 years of age or older.
  • You will need to bring your ID and show it to the security people at the door before you are allowed entrance.
  • You are not allowed to drive after partaking in the tasting.
  • The tasting is limited to 65 people. If the limit is reached, you can not attend.
  • Taking part in one tasting costs €30,- to be paid at the Information desk.

Availability

Whole Weekend, Friday and Saturday visitors ONLY, limited to 65 tickets per tasting.

Locations & Times

Friday 21:00-23:00 Europe ticket sales at the Information desk start at 16:00.

Saturday 21:00-23:00 Europe ticket sales at the Information desk start at 12:00.

Ticketbooth Open

Order your tickets now!

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